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Every society is destined to face the problems of looking after the welfare of the sick, the weak, the destitute and the needy. All societies are alike in this respect. One way of assessing the status of a society on the road to civilisation is the value accorded to an individual and his basic human needs. These have not always received the attention they deserve in the planning of economics, particularly in developing countries. Most of the available resources are consumed by defence needs and pressing demands for technological progress. Programmes for development in the social sector stay a long way behind mainly because of financial constraints. Special efforts are, therefore, needed to mobilise community resources to initiate and develop programmes for the welfare of the weak and the disadvantaged members of the society.
Sometimes it happens that a fortunate combination of the national situation and personal characteristics produce an individual with a capacity to understand the challenge and develop appropriate responses to this challenge. Such an individual in the case of Pakistan is Abdul Sattar Edhi, the Founder of Edhi Foundation.

Abdul Sattar Edhi was born in 1931 in a small village of Bantva near Joona Garh, Gujrat (India). The seeds of compassion for the suffering humanity were sown in his soul by his mother’s infirmity. When Edhi was at the tender age of eleven, his mother became paralysed and later got mentally ill. Young Abdul Sattar devoted himself for looking after all her needs; cleaning, bathing, changing clothes and feeding. This proved to be a loosing battle against the disease, and her helplessness increased over the years. Her persistent woeful condition left a lasting impression on young Edhi. The course of his life took a different turn from other persons of his age. His studies were also seriously affected and he could not complete his high school level. For him the world of suffering became his tutor and source of wisdom.
Edhi’s mother died when he was 19. His personal experience made him think of thousands and millions, suffering like his mother, around with nobody to look after them. He thought that he had a call to help these people. He had a vision of chains of welfare centres and hospitals that could be opened to alleviate the pain of those suffering from illness and neglect. He also thought of the in-human treatment meted out to the mentally ill, the insane and the disabled persons.

Even at this early age, he felt personally responsible for taking on the challenge of developing a system of services to reduce human miseries. The task was huge he had no resources. But it was some thing that he had to do even if he had to walk to the streets if he had to beg for this purpose.
Edhi and his family migrated to Pakistan in 1947. In order to earn his living, Abdul Sattar Edhi initially started as a peddler, later became a commission agent selling cloth in the wholesale market in Karachi.

After a couple of years, he left this occupation and with the support of some members of his community decided to establish a free dispensary. He became involved in this charity work. However, soon his personal vision of a growing and developing system of multifarious services made him decide to establish a welfare trust of his own and named it as "Edhi Trust".
An appeal was made to the public for funds. The response was good, and Rs.200,000/- were raised. The range and scope of work of Edhi Trust expanded with remarkable speed under the driving spirit of the man behind it. A maternity home was established and emergency ambulance service was started in the sprawling metropolis of Karachi with a population of over 10 million.
More donations were received as people’s confidence in the activities of the Trust grew. With the passage of time, masses gave him the title of the" Angel of Mercy."
Abdul Sattar Edhi was married in 1965 to Bilquis, a nurse who worked at the Edhi dispensary. The couple have four children, two daughters and two sons. Bilquis runs the free maternity home at the headquarter in Karachi and organises the adoption of illegitimate and abandoned babies. The husband-wife team has come to share the common vision of single minded devotion to the cause of alleviation of human sufferings and a sense of personal responsibility to respond to each call for help, regardless of race, creed or status.

Edhi involves himself in every activity at Edhi Foundation from raising funds to bathing corpses. Round the clock he keeps with him an ambulance which he drives himself and makes rounds of the city regularly. On finding a destitute or an injured person any where on the way, he escorts him to the Relief Centre where immediate attention is given to the needy person. Inspite of his busy work schedule with the Foundation, Edhi finds enough time to spare with the residents of the orphanages called "Edhi Homes". He is very found of playing and laughing with the children. A short strongly built man in his early seventies with a flowing beard and a ready smile, Edhi is popularly called "Nana" (Grandfather) by the residents of "Edhi Homes".

Despite his enormous fame and the vast sums of money that passes through his hands, Edhi adheres to a very simple and modest life style. He and his family live in a two room apartment adjacent to the premises of Foundation’s headquarter. Neither Edhi nor Bilquis receives any salary. They live on the income from government securities that Edhi bought many years ago to take care of their personal needs for the rest of their lives, thereby freeing them to devote single mindedly to their missionary work.
He shuns publicity for the fear of becoming haughty. As the credibility and fame grew and the name of Edhi became a house-hold word, people started approaching him for becoming chief guest on special occasions.

In an interview given to a journalist in Lahore in 1991, Edhi said,"I want to request the people not to invite me to social gatherings and inaugural ceremonies. This only wastes my time which is wholly devoted to the well being of our people."
Although Edhi has a traditional Islamic background, he has an open and progressive mind on a number of sensitive social issues. He strongly supports the notion of working women. Of the 2,000 paid workers of the Edhi Foundation around 500 are women. They work in various capacities in-charges of Edhi centres, heads of maternity homes and dispensaries and office workers. More-over, several women volunteers help Edhi Foundation in fund raising. Edhi encourages women to do all sorts of work without differentiation.

A. Sattar Edhi has spent over 45 years of his life in the service of humanity. He as established, more or less single handedly, a national welfare network, the Edhi Foundation (EF), which operates from a small headquarter, in a poor locality of Karachi.
The simplicity of central office is amazing in view of the wide range of the nation-wide services co-ordinated by Edhi personally with the help of telephones and a handful of assistants. It is, therefore, not easy to manage the strange mixture of complexity of operations and use of administrative communication channels with the limited staff. This has inevitably resulted in the centralisation of policy decisions.

However, with the general spread of the services to all parts of the country and an increasing awareness of the public, the way has been paved for greater involvement of communities in the management of welfare services. Edhi displays a remarkable stamina and energy at the advanced age of seventy to keep himself informed about all activities of the Foundation in all parts of Pakistan. He travels in Pakistan and abroad extensively for this purpose and conveys a feeling of being there, when needed.
Edhi Foundation is a story of constantly evolving enterprise, infinite faith in the Almighty, perseverance and dedication of its founder. There are many ways in which the benefits of the missionary work of Edhi Foundation can be highlighted:

Firstly, Edhi Foundation is the largest and most organised social welfare system in Pakistan.

Secondly, it is a unique example of what ordinary people can achieve through sincerity of purpose, dedication and perseverance.

Thirdly, Edhi Foundation embodies the spirit of self-help, especially in a society where the notion of self-reliance has not taken root.

Fourthly, by focusing on alleviation of human sufferings, Edhi Foundation has broken the religious, geographical and racial barriers, thus fostering the notion of welfare for all mankind.

The broad ideological base provided by these aspects of the Foundation’s work has helped to develop several innovative approaches for community welfare services in Pakistan, which include

Open-mindedness in solving long-standing problems.

Services based on the principle of self reliance.

Initiation of Unconventional welfare services.

Simplified procedures for the delivery of services.

Fast, "action oriented" system.

The dynamic nature and the range of social services provided by Edhi Foundation makes it different from other similar organisations in Pakistan and abroad. No other welfare organisation in the country is as active at the grassroots level as is the Edhi Foundation.

The Foundation’s activities include a 24 hours emergency service across the country through 250 Edhi Centres which provide free shrouding and burial of unclaimed dead bodies, shelter for the destitute, orphans and handicapped persons, free hospitals and dispensaries, rehabilitation of drug addicts, free wheel chairs, crutches and other services for the handicapped, family planning counselling and maternity services, national and international relief efforts for the victims of natural calamities. Currently, the Foundation is a home for over 6,000 destitute, runaways and mentally ill, and it provides free dispensary and hospital services to over 1,000,000 persons annually in addition to 45 other wide ranging services.

Edhi strongly adheres to the principle of self-help. It is hard to think of any welfare organisation or a non-governmental organisation, sustaining its functions while refraining from soliciting financial support from the government and foreign aid-giving agencies. It is even harder to understand the active such a rejection of the concept of support. All donations for Edhi Foundation come from individuals and a few business enterprises.

The principle of self-reliance not only saves the government a sizeable amount of money, but also helps in changing the culture of dependence on government and foreign agencies for meeting public needs. This notion of self-help is inculcated in all Edhi Centres and their activities. A large number of women trained in Edhi nursing homes in Karachi, initially had approached Edhi Foundation for charity. However, they were persuaded to undergo the nurse training and to become independent. While undergoing training, they are paid a stipend.
Similarly, in Edhi Homes for destitute children, the residents are trained and motivated to do their own work. Some of them are paid token monthly wages for learning vocational skills. Even in the home for the mentally retarded, there is a very small staff. The relatively less handicapped persons are trained to look after the severely handicapped one.

Edhi Foundation has also been innovative in providing some unconventional welfare services despite severe social and cultural opposition. The Jhoolas (Cradles) is a fine example of the use of imagination and social consciousness creatively. Baby cradles are installed near most emergency Edhi Centres where unwanted children can be abandoned without disclosing any identity.
This service addresses a serious problem faced by the society, and demonstrates that, with imagination and determination one can resolve even the most difficult and sensitive issues. In providing this service, Edhi had to face stiff opposition from many quarters. Some groups and individuals viewed the "Jhoola" service as an encouragement for illegitimate child births. However, to Edhi, the cradles save people from committing even a more heinous crime of leaving their unwanted babies to die in the rubbish dumps.
evelopment and management of the nation-wide services of a diverse nature demanded a highly parsimonious and economical system. The means through which the efficiency and effectiveness of Edhi Foundation’s operations is ensured, includes:

Low Administration cost (subsidy voluntary services as opposed to salary based employees).

Provision of facilities through temporary arrangements when resources do not permit a permanent centre. Many of Edhi emergency centres across the country operate from a tent along with an ambulance.

Team work in operational management, and innovation in mobilising and utilising resources.

Edhi highway centres are a fine example of this approach where community centres are being established on highways across the country at every 25 kilometres. Edhi Foundation plans to spend the money raised within a city and develop services in the same city through local funding. Through this mode each city will not only be able to identify with the project, but also develop a sense of healthy competition with other cities to raise more funds.

With exemplary tenacity, Edhi has pursued his mission for the last four decades. He has quietly brought about a remarkable change in the social attitudes in Pakistan towards community welfare by instilling in ordinary citizens a consistent desire to participate in public welfare programmes. Mission of service to humanity knows no barriers of religion, caste, creed or national boundaries.

Edhi Foundation’s network has now extended beyond its national boundaries and acquired an international charter. With its international operations, Edhi is also setting up good examples for other countries to follow and provide better welfare services to the people, especially those of Third World countries. By dedicating his life to the service of humanity, he has not only rendered invaluable services to the needy in Pakistan and other countries, but has also demonstrated how ordinary citizens of the world can develop exemplary models of social services, which even governments and international agencies have found difficult to emulate or duplicate.
Edhi has shown that a single individual has the potential to bring about the desired change at national and international levels.

The mission of Edhi Foundation is to motivate the people of Pakistan and other Third World countries, to solve their social and other problems on self-help basis. Abdul Sattar Edhi believes that the separation of voluntary efforts from the state is necessary in the area of welfare.

Firstly,
it is impossible to provide through the state even barest minimum welfare cover to the people due to continuous financial and resource constraints.

Secondly, Edhi believes that reliance on agencies of the state breeds dependence. He aims to establish a social welfare system in Pakistan which is self-supporting and has the capacity to respond to human needs.

Edhi emphasises the importance of safeguarding the basic human rights, regardless of "religion, caste or creed." My religion is humanitarianism which is the basis of ever religion in the world.", Says Edhi. He has persisted upon his mission of humanitarianism for the past forty five years, and is therefore popular among followers of all the existing religious sects in Pakistan.


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Research work and Interview by Engr. Iqbal A. Khan
Artwork by ContactPakistan.com
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